Altered photograph is a snapshot of Hillsborough feud

TAMPA — Last year, three women and two men stood for a picture in downtown Tampa as the black elected officials of Hillsborough County. But by the time it was published in the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, presto, the photo showed four women and one man.

City Council member Gwen Miller had been digitally added in, and County Commissioner Kevin White had evaporated. All that remained of White was a blur where his shoulder had been and, in the bottom corner, a part of his pants leg.

White had been eradicated like the water commissar who fell out of favor with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin; the commissar was executed and then magically disappeared from group photos with the Soviet leader.

At least White lived to tell the tale.

But politically, he has become persona non grata in the pages of the Sentinel Bulletin, a twice-weekly African-American newspaper founded more than 90 years ago, where many politicians believe they need to be seen to succeed.

White, 44, has not been pictured in the Sentinel Bulletin since mid September, about a week before he gave a deposition in a federal sexual harassment case brought by a former aide, Alyssa Ogden. The depositions by White and Ogden dragged the aging and ill chairman of the Sentinel Bulletin, C. Blythe Andrews Jr., into the case.

Andrews and his family did not keep their hard feelings a secret after testimony emerged suggesting it was Andrews, 79, not White, who was trying to pursue Ogden romantically.

"When Kevin saw that picture in the Sentinel Bulletin, he was like, 'Whoa, what happened to me?' " said council Chairman Thomas Scott, who is in the photo. "But I can tell you, this between him and the paper is not over by a long shot."

In the lawsuit Ogden filed last May, she said White dismissed her for refusing his sexual advances. Ogden, then 22, accompanied White to Atlanta in April 2007; the first night of the trip, she said, White appeared at her room and asked to sleep in her bed.

But in later deposition testimony, Ogden said Andrews paid for a shopping spree and for her room at the Marriott Hotel. She said Andrews asked to be her "companion," which she considered a sexual request.

White denied that he made advances on Ogden and suggested instead that he had merely facilitated a romantic encounter between two friends.

Andrews' attorney has said that Andrews did nothing but demonstrate kindness toward Ogden and offered that White was trying to divert attention from his role in the harassment case.

On Friday, White joked about being erased from the Sentinel Bulletin picture.

"I guess I gained too much weight and they couldn't squeeze me in,'' he said. "As far as the ethics of journalism, I think that's on them, and I guess you'll have to ask them why they did it."

The newspaper's editor, Gwen Hayes, declined to comment other than to say, "Do we have to publish something the way we get it?"

Freelance photographer Ricky Roberts, who shot the original photo, said state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, chairwoman of the Organization of Black Officials, asked him to add Gwen Miller to the photo; another appointment had kept Miller from the shoot. The officials left a gap between two of them when the photo was taken so Miller could be added digitally.

"I literally had to Photoshop her in," Roberts said, referring to a graphics editing program that allows the user to manipulate images. A close look at the color photo shows Miller levitating off the ground. Roberts said White was in the photo he sent to the Sentinel Bulletin.

While the Sentinel Bulletin made White disappear from its pages, White had a role recently in making Les Miller, his opponent for the District 3 seat on the County Commission, disappear from a 30-minute program prepared for Hillsborough's Black Heritage Celebration. Les Miller is the husband of Gwen Miller.

When White found out that county public affairs producers had chosen Les Miller for the broadcast instead of him, he shot a fiery e-mail to the official who had booked Miller.

Voila! A new segment featuring White was produced; that time, it was Les Miller's turn to be erased.

Jeff Testerman can be reached at testerman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3422.

Altered photograph is a snapshot of Hillsborough feud 03/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 23, 2009 9:39am]

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